For more than a decade, the Kern Group has provided marketing services to business in Lawrence and across the state of Kansas, but it took a leap of faith to get the company off the ground.
As you know, all successful businesses have to start somewhere and we’ll learn all about Mark Kern’s career path and how he went from the corporate world to working on his own. This episode will give you a look at what it takes to step out on your own and it can hopefully serve as motivation to follow your entrepreneurial dreams.
For Kern, his career began in radio sales for a small company in Topeka nearly 30 years ago and has taken him into multiple media management positions. His first exposure to the corporate world came when Cumulus Broadcasting bought his radio group, and that gave him a wealth of experience in all facets of media and marketing.
Looking back now, Kern says that sale background put the wheels in motion to understanding what it takes to be a small business owner. Working with these individuals and helping them strategize gave him a great perspective on that side of the business, and the opportunity came when his position in the corporate world was eliminated.
As he was trying to decide which direction to go next, he came to the realization that he didn’t want anyone else in control of his future. That’s when he sat down with his wife and had the conversation about starting his own company.
And that’s a decision that doesn’t come without stress and worry. Kern cashed in his 401k in 2007 to have a reserve in case he needed to rely on it. In retrospect, the timing couldn’t have been any better because the market would crash soon after but sometimes luck is on your side.
Now it was time to build the business. He thought it would be an easy process to bring on old radio clients but it didn’t play out like he anticipated. From that point, he had to take a different path and began cold-calling. It took about four months to bring on the first couple of clients.
He began that business focused on media buying but soon realized the clients he was working with needed help with many other aspects of their internal marketing. Over the course of 2007-08, he had grown to about 15-20 clients, which became a tall task to manage.
So he took his book of business and began working with advertising agency FryeAllen in Topeka. He quickly saw that his goals didn’t align with the company’s so he returned to Lawrence, hired his first designer and went from there.
The Kern Group has been going strong since, but there are a lot of lessons that Kern has learned through the years. That includes stepping back from the business some and rebalancing his life. That’s a challenge every entrepreneur struggles with so it’s great to hear how he’s approached it.
Then there’s the ongoing pandemic, but he thinks it’s made his business and most of the ones he works with stronger. COVID has forced businesses to take a step back and figure out what needs to change and how to approach work differently. Instead of taking a conservative approach, he’s seen many businesses enjoy a very productive year in 2020.
There’s a lot to learn from Kern and he has a great story. As you listen to the show, keep an ear out for these topics of conversation:
- Transitioning from media to becoming a business owner
- Picking clients at the beginning versus now
- Ending relationships with clients when they aren’t a fit any longer
- How the team has grown through the years
- Overcoming the COVID challenges of 2020
- Best investments he’s made in his business isn’t what you’d think
- What he’s learned about managing his time
- Where the focus of the business is now and moving forward
- His tips for a new business owner
You can learn more about the Kern Group on their website here. Listen to the full interview above and utilize the timestamps below to jump to a specific topic. Thanks for listening!
[1:19] – Connections
[2:38] – What led to starting his own business
[4:56] – How that transition into the new business went
[10:32] – Were those first clients ideal?
[12:30] – Have you ever had to exit a client relationship?
[13:59] – Building his team and hiring
[18:08] – How did you overcome COVID challenges?
[22:06] – Best investments he’s made in the business
[27:03] – Personal development techniques
[30:04] – Social media consuming your time
[32:30] – What’s currently happening with his business and what’s to come
[37:11] – How to connect with Mark Kern
[38:13] – One thing you’d tell someone thinking about starting a business.
“I finally realized, you know what, I’m not going to put my family in this situation – or myself – again that has somebody else determine what my level of success was going to be.”